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There are several movie files throughout "Senior's Guide to Computers" demonstrating many techniques. For a complete list of all of them including links to each one, please visit the VIDEOS page.
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Using Your keyboard

Most keyboards look the same. They follow a uniform standard. However, a few keys may be shaped differently or may be placed in slightly different positions.

Figure H2-1

Main Keyboard (See Figure H2-1) - These are the main letter and number keys (or the alphanumeric keys). This is called the "QWERTY" layout after the first six keys of the second row. Notice that several keys have two characters printed on them. For example, the numeral "4" key has the currency symbol "$" located above the "4". In general, to get the character on the top of each key, hold one of the two "Shift" keys down while you tap the required key. Do this if you want a capital. You may notice that the keyboard has a "Caps Lock" key. This is similar to the "Lock" key on a typewriter. Typing in all capitals is not always a good idea. People on the Internet will think you are rude and accuse you of "shouting". In the upper right corner of your keyboard you should find three small lights. One is labeled "Num Lock", another "Caps Lock" and the last "Scroll Lock". "Num Lock" is usually on (the light is on). This allows you to use the number pad just below it to type in numbers. The "Caps Lock" light should be off. If it is on, press the "Caps Lock" key to turn the light off. When the light is on, you'll get capital letters.

Whenever you are using a program that allows you to enter some text, you will see a vertical blinking line. That's the cursor. Any text you type (and, in most cases, any command you may give) will appear where the cursor is. The cursor can be moved around by using the cursor pad (which we discuss below) or by clicking the new location with the mouse.

The "Tab" key will move the cursor over about five characters. Use the "Tab" key to indent the first line of a paragraph. Use the "Tab" key to move from one "input box" to another on an Internet form.

On the bottom row of the keyboard you will find a number of keys that are not found on a typewriter. These are the keys marked "Ctrl" or "Control" and "Alt". These keys, along with the "Shift" keys are different than all the rest of the keys on the keyboard. "Ctrl", "Alt" and "Shift" are designed to work WITH other keys. We already know what "Shift" does. What "Control" and "Alternate" do can change from one program to another. However, Windows has standard uses for these keys. For example, "Ctrl" + "B" will make selected text bold - like this. "Alt" + the underlined letter in a menu bar will open up that menu list.

Along that bottom row are three more keys. The key with the Windows logo on it can appear on the left side or on both sides of the keyboard, while the third key only appears on the right side. You can use the logo key to open up the "Start" menu - just like clicking on "Start" with the mouse. The other key will, sometimes, open different menus. When an item is "selected" pressing this key does the same action as pressing the "right" mouse button - a special menu.

Also on the bottom row is the space bar. Use the space bar to insert a space between words and sentences. But DON'T use the space bar to:

  • Move across your page so you can edit a word. This works with a typewriter, but not a computer.
  • Insert spaces so objects on two different lines will line up. The size of the space changes when you change fonts or font sizes as does any text you have in front of your spaces. Use "Tab".
  • Center text between the left and right margins. Same reasons as above. Use the "Align Center" button or command.
  • Indent a paragraph. Use "Tab".

The large key on the right end of the keyboard is usually labeled "ENTER". It is like the "Carriage Return" key on an electric typewriter. Use this key when you need a new line such as for a new paragraph or a new line of your document. Don't use it when you are in the middle of a paragraph and your cursor is nearing the right margin. All word processing programs will automatically "word wrap" your words down to the next line when you reach the end of the current line. "Enter" is also used when you want to tell the computer you have finished something.

Above the "Enter" key is a key labeled "Backspace" or with a left-pointed arrow (or both). Use "Backspace" to remove or erase characters or letters. "Backspace" will erase whatever is to the LEFT of the cursor. The "Delete" key erases whatever is to the RIGHT of the cursor.

Function Keys

function keys

Figure H2-2

At the top of the keyboard is this row of keys (See Figure H2-2). The first key is labeled "Esc" or "Escape". What "Esc" does depends largely on what program you're running.

The remaining keys are labeled F1 through F12. These are the "Function" keys. Although there are standard "Functions" for a few of these keys, for most of them, the writers of the program decide what, if anything, the function keys will do. Some of the standard uses for the Function are:

  • F1 - If you are in an application and you press this key, you will get its help file.
  • F2 - You select a program on your desktop and press this key. You will be allowed to rename that program.
  • F3 - While you are working in windows explorer or on desktop, you press this key you will get the 'Search' window.
  • F4 - While you are in Internet Explorer and you will press this key the address bar will open.
  • F5 - To refresh the active window in any web browser, press F5.
  • F6 - This key is often used to move the cursor around the structure of the program. Pressing it will often cycle you from window to window.
  • F7 - Users have no use of this key in Windows. But in Microsoft Word you will get spelling command.
  • F8 - The F8 key can be used to access Safe Mode if pressed during the computer's boot up process. This is a trouble-shooting mode, which will start the computer with minimal drivers.
  • F9 - The F9 key does not have any functionality in Windows.
  • F10 - The F10 key does not have any functionality in Windows.
  • F11 - If you press this key, you will enter the 'Full Screen' mode most web browsers. This mode is also known as "KIOSK" mode.
  • F12 - The F12 key does not have any functionality in Windows.
  • Cursor Keypad


    Figure H2-3

    To the right of the normal keys is the cursor control pad (See Figure H2-3). Pressing one of these keys will move the cursor in the direction of the arrow. The other keys may act somewhat differently in different programs but here is what they usually do:

    • Pressing "Home" will move you to the left or beginning of the current line.
    • Pressing "End" will move the cursor to the right end of the current line.
    • Pressing "Page Up" will take you up one screen at a time.
    • Pressing "Page Down" will take you down one screen at a time.

    For most word processors, the "Insert" key will switch between "Insert" mode and "Typeover" mode. "Insert" mode is the normal mode for a word processor. If you move the cursor back between two letters and type a new letter, the letter will appear where the cursor was and all the letters to the right will move over to make room. In "Typeover" mode, the letter you type replaces the letter to the right of the cursor.

    The "Delete" key will erase the character to the RIGHT of the cursor.

    Numeric Keypad


    Figure H2-4

    The numeric keypad is at the far right end of the keyboard (See Figure H2-4). It is designed to closely resemble a calculator keypad. This pad is used primarily when you have a lot of numbers to enter. To use this pad to control the cursor, "NumLock" must be off. That means the little light labeled "Num Lock" must be off. To switch from controlling the cursor to entering numbers, press "NumLock".

    Recommended Keyboard
    Backlit for easy viewing

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Using Your Mouse


Figure H2-5

The mouse moves the pointer on the screen. To start a program, double-click on the icon or program name with the left button on the mouse (See Figure H2-5). You can also start up a program by clicking once on the left button depending on how you have set up your computer. To "double-click", press and let go of the button twice very quickly.


Figure H2-6

You can also use the right mouse button (See Figure H2-6). Clicking the right button (right-click) brings up a special menu of things you can do at that moment. To do this, select it with the right mouse button by right-clicking once.

You can also use the mouse to move (cut) or copy an object from one place to another. This is how you copy a file from one place to another, for example:

  • Move the mouse pointer over the object.
  • Press and hold down either CTRL key. Keep the button pressed as you move the file, folder, etc. with the left mouse button depressed.
  • Move the mouse pointer to the place you want the object moved to. (The object or its outline will move with you.)
  • When you have arrived, let go of the left mouse button.
  • The object is copied.

Click here to see an animated demonstration of copy and paste. (valid for Windows XP or 7)

To move (cut) an object from one place to another, perform the above steps without holding the CTRL key.

Click here to see an animated demonstration of cut and paste. (valid for Windows XP or 7)

Recommended Mouse

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Everyone needs a printer for personal use or for their business/home office. The type of printer you choose depends on what you want to print - text, graphics or photos, black & white or color.

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers work by spraying tiny dots of ink onto a page. This process can produce black and white or color images and very acceptable photo quality images. Basic inkjet printers will have three colors: cyan, magenta and yellow (CMY) which are loaded into one cartridge with another cartridge just for black. The best setup is a printer with a separate cartridge for each color, that way you only replace the color you need.

Acceptable photos can be produced with a two-cartridge printer. Dedicated photo inkjet printers are great for photos but terrible for text. In order to get high quality images, inkjets use a lot of ink and print best on special paper so cost is a factor.

Inkjets print at a speed of about 2-6 pages per minute (ppm) for text and about 1-2 ppm for graphics. Naturally, speed increases with price. Overall, inkjets will fit a reasonable budget. An all around personal inkjet can start around $90 and go as high as $600.

Color Laser Printers

The more expensive option for color printing is a color laser printer. They create high quality color graphics and photos, as well as sharp text, all at significantly faster rates: 25-35 pages per minute (ppm) for text and 5-25 ppm for graphics. There's a hefty price attached since color lasers go for $500 - $1,000. Colored toner is less expensive per page than inkjets, but this will only offset the higher printer price if you're printing high volumes.

Monochrome Lasers

Laser printers work on the same concept as photocopiers which accounts for their speed. A monochrome laser produces text at about 20-35 pages per minute. Monochrome lasers are priced around $200 - $300.

Multifunction Printers

Multifunction printers combine printing, scanning, copying and faxing all in one. These printers are cheaper than buying separate stand-alone devices, take up less space and need only one connector cable and one power outlet. One disadvantage is that if your printer stops working, so does your fax, scanner or copier.

Depending on the model, multifunction printers can perform various functions like faxing or copying without the computer being turned on. This is a very desirable feature. A multifunction printer for the personal user will range between $150 - $2,000. I use a multifunction inkjet printer and I recommend this type of device for most home users.

Recommended Multifunction Printer

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Printer

  1. Resolution - The printer's resolution tells you how many dots per inch (dpi) can be printed. The higher the resolution the better the image quality. Resolutions are given for the horizontal and vertical (ie. 300x600). The minimum resolution to aim for is 600x600. You won't need anything as high as 1200 dpi unless you want top photo quality.
  2. Speed - Printer speeds vary a lot with lasers being faster than inkjets and monochrome text printing faster than color. It's smarter to read printer reviews that quote actual pages per minute rates than trust the manufacturer's information (See the list of online review web sites below).
  3. Paper Handling - Most printers do well on ordinary stock paper. Photographs look better on special photo paper. Most laser and inkjet printers can handle letter and legal sizes paper, but expect to pay more if you want to use larger paper. Also, if you need to use envelopes, transparencies and labels, make sure the printer can handle these types of paper.
  4. Compatibility - Not every printer is compatible with both Apple and Windows computers. Check the manufacturer's specifications.
  5. Printing Supplies - For inkjets, the price for color printing is higher than color lasers and monochrome lasers cost less than either of them. In addition to toner, laser printers have a number of parts that periodically need to be changed. A toner cartridge has inside of it a drum, developer unit, ozone filter and fuser wand which explains why cartridges can be so expensive. When the toner is finished, you can save money by recycling the cartridge. The recycled cartridge is usually quality tested too. Buying recycled cartridges can save you between 25-50%, and help the environment.

    Some inkjet printers use ink cartridges that you can refill yourself. If you' re skilled with your fingers and don't mind a potential mess you can buy kits for refilling these cartridges. This cuts down on printing costs.

    Some manufacturers say that the best results can only be achieved by using their supplies. Using recycled cartridges will not automatically invalidate a printer's warranty. But if your printer breaks down and it turns out the problem was caused by a third-party cartridge then your warranty won't cover the expenses. Buy your printing supplies from a reputable source that will stand behind their products.
  6. Warranty - Warranties can vary in their coverage so make sure you get a written explanation that describes what's covered. The warranty should cover parts and labor on all components. It's also good to have access to onsite support if you need it. Ask your dealer who provides the service, when it's available and at what cost. I don't usually recommend spending money on extended warranties but since printers have more moving parts than any other part of your computer system, it might not be a bad idea to invest in one.

You Can Fool Some of the People
Some of the Time...

Almost all printers will give you a warning when the ink cartridge is getting low on ink. Since printer manufacturers make more profit on printing supplies than on the actual printers, this should be regarded with a grain of salt. I always continue to use the ink cartridge until the color actually starts to fade. I commonly use the cartridge for several weeks after I get the low ink warning.

Do Your Research Online Before You Buy

One of the best ways to get information about printers is on the Internet. Many web sites provide reviews and ratings for printers as well as other computer components. Here are some of the best sites:

CNet Reviews
Computer Shopper
PC Magazine
PC World
Tom's Hardware

Shop Smart!

When you're ready to buy I recommend that you use a credit card. If something goes wrong with your purchase, the best way to protect yourself is with a credit card. Many credit cards also offer special insurance on big purchases against theft or loss.

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CD/DVD Burning

A CD writer or burner is a disc drive that can be used to produce discs readable in other CD drives and CD players. A DVD burner produces DVD discs playable in other DVD drives or DVD players. Internal CD/DVD writers for personal computers are designed to fit in a standard 5.25" drive bay. External CD/DVD writers usually have USB or FireWire connections. Most DVD burners come combined with CD writing functions but be aware that there are exceptions. If in doubt, consult with the hardware manufacturer.

Types of Discs

CD-R is short for "CD-Recordable". CD-Rs can be written once and read multiple times and work just like standard CDs. The advantage of CD-R discs is that you can use the discs with a standard CD player. The disadvantage is that you can only record on them once.

CD-RW is short for "CD-Rewritable" and lets you erase discs and reuse them, but CD-RW discs don't work in all players. CD-Rewritable drives are able to write both CD-R and CD-RW discs.

CD-ROM is short for "Compact Disc Read-Only Memory". A CD that allows information to be stored and retrieved. Once a CD-ROM is created, new data cannot be written and the disc cannot be erased. CD-ROMs look like music CDs but they can only be used with a computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive. All CD recorders can read CDs and CD-ROMs, just like a standard CD-ROM drive.

DVD-R/DVD+R are write-once, read-many format similar to CD-R used to master DVD-Video and DVD-ROM discs and is compatible with most DVD drives and players. They are competing formats. DVD-R discs tend to play in more standalone DVD players. The disc capacity is 4.7 gigabytes.

DVD-RW/DVD+RW is playable in many DVD drives and players. In other cases the drive or player doesn't recognize the disc format code and doesn't even try to read the disc. The disc capacity is 4.7 gigabytes. DVD-RW discs can be rewritten about 1,000 times.

DVD-RAM is best suited for use in computers. DVD-RAM can be rewritten more than 100,000 times, and the discs are expected to last at least 30 years.

Most new combo drives can record in both plus and dash format. DVD-R and DVD+R discs work in about 85% of existing drives and players, while DVD-RW and DVD+RW discs work in around 80%. The situation is steadily improving.

Well designed CD/DVD burning (recording) software can be used to make backup copies of your data, create music CDs that will play in most players, create movies on DVDs, make labels and more. The major problem with some of these programs is that they have too many features and try to do too many things. Sometimes this "software bloat" can cause compatibility problems and other conflicts.

These programs usually contain these features:

  1. They make it easy to burn identical copies of your files and folders.
  2. They can burn the data to CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R/RW or DVD+R/RW discs.
  3. The discs are immediately useable.
  4. You can make labels for your discs.

Basically, there are two programs that lead the competition in the category:

Roxio Creator NXT 2
Rating: 3 stars

Nero 2014
Rating: 3 stars

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USB CABLEThe Universal Serial Bus (USB) is used to connect many types of peripherals to a computer including joysticks, mice, keyboards, printers, scanners and external CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW recorders. Computers do not have to be rebooted when a USB device is attached because these devices are automatically recognized by the system. USB version 2.0 is the latest version allowing improved performance. Most modern PCs come equipped with several USB connections.

fiirewire cableOriginally known as IEEE 1394 and iLINK, Firewire is a high performance connection used to connect computers to external hard disk drives and CD-R/RW recorders as well as consumer electronics devices like digital camcorders, televisions and game consoles. Firewire interfaces come standard on most Apple Macintosh systems and on some PCs.

While Firewire is faster than USB 2.0 and uses very little system resources, it is more expensive to design ways to use it. That's why cheap, low speed devices such as keyboards, mice, and digital cameras work best with for USB, while devices needing high-speed service like hard drives and video cameras require Firewire.

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